Preserving Our Souls by Faith
“We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (v. 39).- Hebrews 10:37–39
We have seen how Hebrews 10:32–36 provided assurance to its original readers by exhorting them to recall their early zeal for Christ and the external evidences that confirmed the reality of their zealous faith. Remembering—mental recollection and action in line with one’s immediate postconversion experience—is one of the key elements of finding the confidence and patience to persevere in faith until we receive our heavenly reward. In today’s passage, the author turns to Habakkuk 2:3–4 in order to confirm that God’s blessing will surely come to Christians and to give further encouragement to keep trusting the Lord.
To understand the author’s use of Habakkuk the prophet, we must know the original context of the citation. Habakkuk prophesied during the last quarter of the seventh century BC, when the people of Judah were impenitent in breaking the old covenant and deserved God’s punishment. The prophet complained that wickedness was going unpunished in his day, and God responded that He would use Babylon to discipline Judah (Hab. 1:1–11). This perplexed Habakkuk, for wicked Babylon also deserved punishment (1:12–2:1). God replied that His use of evil Babylon to chasten His people did not mean the Babylonians would escape. He would bring their kingdom to an end and would establish His people in strength and salvation (2:6–3:19). Yet, that would not occur right away. Habakkuk and others would have to wait, trusting that the vision of the Lord’s arrival in judgment would come to fruition. God would regard those who waited in faith as righteous in His eyes. Those who did not trust Him would be seen as unrighteous and would face judgment (vv. 2–5).
The author of Hebrews understands that Jesus’ return to consummate His kingdom and bring an end to all His enemies ultimately fulfills Habakkuk’s vision of the Lord’s arrival in judgment. So, he applies Habakkuk’s teaching to Christ, calling his audience to a forward-looking faith that trusts in Jesus’ vindication and blessing, both of which are yet to come in all their fullness. If we trust that Jesus will fulfill all His promises of salvation, including our rescue from sin through His atonement and resurrection and His coming again to judge the living and the dead, then God declares us righteous. By this faith we preserve our souls, for all those whom God regards as righteous through faith alone will inherit eternal life in God’s blessed presence forever (Heb. 10:39; see John 3:16; Rom. 4).
John Calvin comments on today’s passage, “God will come to our aid, for he has promised; and by the second, that he will do so in due time, not later than he ought.” The original audience of Hebrews had to trust that God would bring the full blessings purchased by Jesus at just the right time, and so must we. True faith means patiently waiting for God, trusting that He will accomplish all His purposes.
Passages for Further Study
2 Chronicles 20:1–30